+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The reading for this morning from Revelation 7 gives us two different views of the Church, one is earthly, the other is heavenly, or, as we often say, one is Militant and the other is Triumphant. The Militant are numbered as 144,000. The number isn’t absolute. Rather, it signifies completeness and perfection, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The point being, none of the elect of God will be lost and none but the elect will be saved. There is comfort in this vision of John. It means that God will carry out the salvation of the Church with precision and certainty.
As to whether or not you are counted among the elect, there is no mystery. The decree of your election is not in the hiddenness of God, but, in His grace, revealed to you in the preaching of His Word and in the cleansing water of your baptism. John’s vision in the first part of Revelation 7, is to remind you, the elect of God, that you have been sealed and that, in time, you will be ushered from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, for, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
You are foreknown, predestined and conformed to the image of Jesus. You are called, justified and glorified. Still, you are Militant, because you’re still slogging through this vale of tears. And it is precisely now, it is when you, when the Church Militant, fights against the forces of darkness, when she is trivialized, marginalized, threatened with death and even with annihilation, that she finds comfort in God having “called her by the Gospel, enlightened her with His gifts and kept her in the One True faith.” It is now that you find comfort in your election and in your having been numbered among the saints. Paul makes the point elsewhere in Scripture. “Who (he asks) shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
When, for you and me, the Church Militant, “the fight is fierce and the warfare long,” we bear in our hands the sword of the Spirit and with it we cut away the darkness of despair and the gloom of night. We are bolstered by the certainty of our salvation and by the promise of God that “the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church.”
And we look forward to a yet more glorious day, when all the saints of God rise in bright array. Even though John gives us two views of the Church in Revelation 7, the earthly and the heavenly, the fact is, there is but one Church, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Though you and I are still in the fight, separated from loved ones who have gone before us in the faith, we are united by a common bond. We remain forever brothers and sisters in the Una Sancta, the one holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We are bound together by blood, the blood of the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.
A father, a Christian father, lost his son to death. As you would expect, he grieved his loss tremendously. From time to time he would speak with his pastor about his grief. At first the pastor tried to comfort the grieving father with the assurance that his son was in heaven and that he was at peace. While the father was glad his son had died a Christian and that he was therefore at peace, there was something about that assurance that still left him empty.
He struggled with that emptiness for some time and then it finally hit him. The next time his pastor assured him that his son was in heaven, the father stopped the pastor and said, “pastor, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad Johnny is in heaven, but the truth is, “what I want is for him to be here with me!”
Those words haunted the pastor for some time. He knew they were true. The promise of our loved one’s being in heaven doesn’t take away the chasm in our gut, the loneliness, or, the emptiness that we feel. He thought more about how he could comfort the grieving father. It was then that he remembered a prayer he had said many times at the altar when conducting a funeral. “Almighty God, You have knit Your chosen people together into one communion in the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Give to Your whole Church in heaven and on earth Your light and Your peace.”
Again, there is but one Church. Some of the Church is Militant and some is Triumphant, but, we have been knit together as one communion in the mystical body of Christ. The father who lost his son in death would find greater peace in kneeling before God’s throne of grace, for, he knelt, not alone, but, with those who had gone before him in the faith, including his dear son.
In this sacred meal, this Holy Communion, we are, in fact, joined together with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” as we celebrate our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. Though our eyes don’t see the mystery of the unity of the Church, that unity is nonetheless real. In fact, it is more real than what we generally call “reality.”
The one who was taken from you in death, the one you loved in life, the one who loved Christ unto death, who has “come out of the great tribulation,” is the very one that John writes about in the latter part of Revelation 7. While you remain part of the Militant who have been sealed,
“They are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne (shelters) them with his presence.
16 They hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun (does not) strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne (is their) shepherd,
and he (guides) them to springs of living water,
and God (wipes) away every tear from their eyes.”
What an incredible vision John had of the departed saints!! Who has such comfort in death but those who were so comforted by Christ in life!!? And who is more comforted in life than those who know that they too will, in time, join the others who “came out of the great tribulation?” The unity of the Church that you experience now, by faith, you will experience, in time, in an even more grand sense. You are, after-all, included in John’s vision of the Church Triumphant, for, “those whom (God) predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
“The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.”
“But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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